The Case for Livable Income

Lynsae Moon

Lynsae Moon

Like so many families in Edmonton and across Alberta, Lynsae Moon’s family loved skating sports. Moon played high-level ringette, advancing far enough to try out for Team Canada.

She has two school-aged kids of her own now, and neither of them skate.

“I didn’t have the money to put them into any type of skating activity,” Moon explains, “so I never taught them to skate because I was so afraid they would ask to go out for hockey. That seems trivial, but it was really painful. My whole family is a hockey family. When I became a single mom, there were lots of decisions like that I had to make.”

Every day, families and individuals living below the poverty line in our city are faced with hard choices. Keeping the kids out of activities. Choosing between which bills you can afford to pay and which you can’t afford not to pay. Going without food at the end of the month to make sure there’s enough money to cover the rent.

Today, Moon is the co-owner of The Nook Café, located in Edmonton’s Boyle Street neighbourhood, and is a vocal proponent of the province’s minimum wage being brought in line with living wage standards. “I believe in paying a livable wage because I think anybody who is willing to work to the best of their abilities should be adequately compensated. I’d like to see more people being adequately compensated and not have to stretch themselves so thin.”

According to the Edmonton Social Planning Council, over 100,000 Edmontonians are living in poverty, many of them working full-time hours, or working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

A Game Changer

Livable income has been identified as one of EndPovertyEdmonton’s Game Changers — actionable items we as a community can undertake to effect real change for those experiencing poverty.

Kevin Kent

Kevin Kent

The central tenet of livable income is succinctly put by Kevin Kent, founder of the Knifewear Group of companies: “People who work full-time should not live in poverty.”

Kent himself is no stranger to the challenges facing the working poor. “I worked as a chef with very low wages for a long time, and I know the struggle. Most of my money for a great chunk of my life went to rent, then food, and there was very little left after that. And if you’re trying to raise kids like that, it’s really difficult.”

Today, Kent’s businesses encompass nine retail locations across Canada and two online stores. Knifewear offers Japanese knives to restaurant professionals and dedicated amateurs alike. At Kent of Inglewood, you’ll find an array of shaving and grooming supplies, personal accessories, and high-end axes.

Kent prioritized paying a livable wage in his business model right from the beginning. “I have to work with these people day in and day out. I don’t want my co-workers to be struggling.”

Moon agrees: “As an employer, I believe in building relationships, not just a set of employees. I couldn’t be in a relationship with my employees and see them struggling.”

But for these employers, a livable wage isn’t just a moral imperative — it makes good business sense.

A Good Business Move

We take care of our staff, they take care of our customers, and everybody wins.
— Kevin Kent

“Moving towards a livable wage levels the playing field,” says Moon. “In an industry where somebody might have left you for a 50-cent raise somewhere else before, now it means that everybody in these positions across the board is making a similar amount. So as an employer, it gives me security. I can take the time to invest in my employees, training them and moving them up into positions of more responsibility, and they’re not going to jump ship when the café five blocks away can offer them a little bit more. We’ve had really good employee retention.”

Kent says his investment in livable wages pays dividends. “The benefits of paying a livable income are low staff turnover and engaged staff. These are the people that run my business. They’re front-facing and talk to customers all day. It’s important that they’re well taken care of, they’re confident coming to work, they’re well rested, they’re happy. They’re not stressed out and thinking about ‘How am I going to get to my second job?’ We take care of our staff, they take care of our customers, and everybody wins.”

Kent says that paying a livable wage is an inherent part of his businesses’ success. “It’s not a hardship. It’s why we have staff that stick around and it’s why our customers keep coming back — because our staff are engaged and happy and want to succeed.”

Plans and Programs

Livable income is more than just a number on a paycheque.
— Susannah Cameron

As EndPovertyEdmonton (EPE) Community Engagement Manager Susannah Cameron says, “Livable income is more than just a number on a paycheque.” Beyond meeting basic economic needs such as housing and food, it also provides for social and cultural needs that are crucial to quality of life. It enables people to “have full and meaningful participation in the community.”

EPE is currently engaged in the development of the Alberta Living Wage Network, a partnership with municipalities across the province to track and calculate living wage. The Edmonton Social Planning Council calculated the city’s living wage for 2018 — for a two-parent family with two children (where both parents work full time) — as $16.48 per hour.

EPE’s Road Map Action plans include development of economic opportunities at the community level. Initiatives such as the Edmonton Community Development Company and Communities United are designed “to support small businesses, and increase self-employment and employment opportunities at the neighbourhood level” says Cameron.

Cameron goes on to point out other EPE Road Map initiatives working to support people through financial literacy and empowerment. These initiatives enable access to and understanding of banking, budgeting, savings, and income supports such as tax refunds, GST credits, and child tax benefits.

A plan to develop a Living Wage Leaders program is in the early stages. Businesses paying a living wage would be identified as leaders and would help mentor other businesses in the practices and benefits of promoting a living wage in their business models.

Speaking Out

The majority of minimum wage earners are contributing members of society. They’re adults, they have families, they have big needs.
— Lynsae Moon

Moon is a big believer in talking up the benefits of a living wage, and says that these conversations help break down preconceived notions and biases. “The majority of minimum wage earners are contributing members of society. They’re adults, they have families, they have big needs.” The numbers agree: according to the Edmonton Social Planning Council, 78.5% of minimum wage earners are over 20 years old.

“Because we’ve been pretty public and open about our support of livable wage,” Moon adds, “we’ve had people in turn come and support us.”

Kent would also encourage businesses to look at the long-term benefits of paying a living wage. “The best thing we can do is tell other business owners that it’s possible. In fact, it will make your business better. Too many people look at the bottom line and say, ‘If I pay more, I make less,’ but that’s a fallacy. Staff turnover costs a lot of money. Training costs so much money. While your best people are showing a new person the ropes, you lose sales.”

Everyone Benefits

Livable incomes provide individuals and families with safety and stability. When meeting basic needs is no longer cause for constant concern, people experience improved physical and mental health. Dependence on social support systems is reduced. Doors open to further opportunities. People are able to support the local economy and engage with social and cultural activities in their community.

In short, livable incomes enrich us all.